“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (vv. 20–21a).
God’s sovereign decree—His eternal, effectual plan—establishes everything that happens in the universe (Eph. 1:11). But as we have seen, this fact does not mean that God is the only cause of what happens in creation. His decree also establishes secondary causes that produce real effects. Physical laws, human choices, and contingencies are established by the decree and operate according to what God has ordained (WCF 5.2), and these secondary causes produce real effects in the world. Our decisions are not illusions but create actual results that are meaningful because they are incorporated within the decree of the Lord who alone gives meaning to all things.
Today we will consider in more detail how the secondary causes of human actions are related to what God does in His providential governance. We have seen that although God ordains what we do, He does not force us to act against our desires. We do what we most want to do even in situations where we feel constrained. For example, we may feel like we do not want to hand over our wallet to a robber, and all things being equal, we have no desire to give our money to thieves. But if the only alternative to handing over our wallet when a robber confronts us is to be killed by the robber, we will give it up. In that situation, we desire to live more than we desire to keep our money.
Because we always do what we most want to do in every set of circumstances, God can bring about the ends He desires without violating our wills. But in any given situation, while the ends toward which God and His creatures aim may overlap, the desires motivating the Lord and those motivating His creatures do not always match. The patriarch Joseph’s life provides the classic example of this. Joseph’s brothers sent him off as a slave to Egypt (Gen. 37). Their desire was wholly evil. They wanted only to see Joseph suffer. But later, after Joseph became Egypt’s prime minister, he told his brothers that God also sent him to Egypt. However, the Lord sent Joseph to Egypt not because He wanted Joseph to suffer but so that Joseph could save many people from famine. God’s desire was entirely good and holy (50:15–21).
Here we are talking about the flowing together of divine and creaturely volition and activity that is known as concurrence. The Lord and creaturely moral agents such as humans and angels simultaneously act to ultimately fulfill God’s decree, but while God’s purposes for bringing about a certain end are always righteous, those of His creatures are sometimes sinful.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
The doctrine of concurrence tells us that both God and human beings make things happen according to their respective places in God’s decree. The actions of both parties are essential in their prescribed way. This means that we cannot be fatalists and think, “Oh well, it does not matter what we do.” It does matter. Our decisions and actions are vital, and without them, things will not happen.